The Orioles have designated infielder Rio Ruiz for assignment and have replaced him with Stevie Wilkerson from Triple-A Norfolk.
Ruiz was batting .167 with three home runs and six RBIs in 32 games. In three seasons with the Orioles, Ruiz, has batted .220 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs. The Orioles claimed him on waivers from Atlanta on December 10, 2018.
Ruiz’s most memorable moment with the Orioles came on August 11, 2019. A day after the Orioles lost to the Houston Astros, 23-2, Ruiz hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth.
Manager Brandon Hyde called the conversation with Ruiz “extremely difficult, someone who’s been here the better part of three years. A guy that everybody really likes a lot. He’s a clubhouse favorite. He’s a coaches’ favorite. He’s easy to like. He’s easy to coach. When you get to know somebody not only on a professional level, but a personal level, when you’re around players as much as we are, it’s an extremely difficult day to say goodbye.
“He’s going to go through the waiver process. Whatever is best for him, I hope it works out, whether it’s with us or with another club.”
Wilkerson, who is being added to the 40-man roster, hit .219 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs in 2018 and 2019 for the Orioles. He missed last season because a fractured left ring finger suffered in an exhibition game five days before Opening Day.
“He lost a year of at-bats last year,” Hyde said. “He had a chance to make the club.”
He was hitting .357 with a home run and three RBIs in 12 games with Norfolk.
“It’s nice to know the opportunity to get rewarded is there,” Wilkerson said. “I think a lot of guys will get inspired by moves like this by our team and other teams. If you put your best foot forward, then there’s a chance that good things can happen.”
Wilkerson brings versatility. He has played every position but catcher and first base for the Orioles. On July 25, 2019, he became the first position player to record a save in major league history when he pitched a scoreless 16th inning against the Los Angeles Angels.
“I love the energy that Stevie brings, both on the field and off the field in the clubhouse,” Hyde said. “He is extremely well-liked by everybody here. It’s easy to like him because he plays so hard and he’s got a great personality. He’s funny. Players are drawn to him. He just brings a ton of personality to our club, and he’s off to a really good start at Norfolk. He brings flexibility from a roster standpoint if you want to play him at different spots, be able to move him around the field.
“He’s swinging the bat well right now. Hopefully, he’ll be able to give us a boost offensively. I’m excited to see Stevie today.”
The switch-hitting Wilkerson is batting ninth and playing second base for Tuesday night’s game against Tampa. In 2019, he was forced to play center field, but he’s happy to be back in the infield.
“It’s comforting,” Wilkerson said. “I’m excited to get out there at second base tonight. Obviously, that’s where I’ve played the most throughout my career, but I’m just excited for any opportunity I have on the diamond. I don’t really care what position it’s at.”
Hyde said that Wilkerson and Pat Valaika will get playing time at second base.
“Both those guys can play different spots,” Hyde said. “I’d like to give Stevie a look. It’s a guy that’s grinded for a while. Both him and Pat have some time in the big leagues and play different places. Against more right-handed pitchers, Stevie’s going to get more of an opportunity. Against lefties, maybe Pat. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll probably go with the hot hand. Whoever’s swinging the bat the best and playing the best, I’ll be putting them in the lineup.”
After the Orioles signed Maikel Franco to play third base late in spring training, the Orioles decided to give Ruiz a shot at second base, and he started there in 17 games.
“It was everything I could ask for defensively,” Hyde said. “It’s not easy to do, to pick up a position at the end of spring training, do it with a great attitude, work his tail off every single day to get acclimated to the position. I thought he did great, turned double plays … made all the routine plays, made some nice plays as well. He did everything and more defensively.”